Bill Cooper


Reviewers Rating

Last night’s performance of Verdi’s Macbeth was filmed and screened for the benefit of worldwide audience unable to see the live performance. The auditorium was full to capacity, including standing rows. Many came to see the diva Anna Netrebko, the Russian soprano. The evening offers a great deal more. The Royal Opera Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Antonio Pappano superbly creates drama through the extremity of the dynamics in the music and the chorus brilliantly support the whole performance.

This production uses Verdi’s 1865 Paris version of the score, which is a musical marriage of 1847 version of the young Verdi (age 33), with the more sophisticated style of the more mature Verdi in 1865. Although the coexistence of the early and middle styles is in parts tenuous, the Royal Opera House orchestra offers a brilliant fusion of the whole piece. From where I was sitting, the acoustic were excellent but details of facial expressions and details of the set blended into abstract scenes.

The libretto follows Shakespeare’s play with the necessary operatic interpolations. The story, in brief, is of two generals, Macbeth and Banquo, in King Duncan’s army, who hear a coven of witches’ prophesy that Macbeth shall become a king and the Banquo will be a father of kings. Macbeth informs his wife of the encounter via a letter. His reading of what the witches said and her understanding of what Macbeth wrote result in spiralling machinations, ruthlessness and thirst for power, which drive the Macbeths to horrific acts.

The witches are not three solo singers but three groups of women – a boisterous and fierce chorus. Scarlet-turbaned, they indulge in gleeful movements and sing with macabre elation, with what seems morbid humour, yet they maintain precise control. These witches are fate’s messengers – one of them delivers Macbeth’s fateful letter to his wife. It is a witch that hands the crown to Macbeth. The witches in these productions are not evil but mischievous and partly servants of fate itself.

Phyllida Lloyd’s 2002 production, revived by Daniel Dooner, depicts the Macbeths’ bitter pain of being childless as the root of their evil acts, as the core motivation behind their terrible deeds.

Anthony Ward’s design does not dwell much on the domestic scene per se, albeit there is a glimpse into the Lady’s bathroom and bedroom. The domestic intensity is generated through the music and the performances.

Anna Netrebko’s Lady Macbeth (referred to as “Lady” by Verdi) is demonic, manipulative and majestic. Her mastery of this role, vocally and theatrically, exposes colourfully and convincingly the polarised extremes in her wide vocal range and dramatic talent, from the riveting “La luce langue” to the sleepwalking scene. Verdi insisted that for this lead role the singer must not to be pretty to look at and should be able to express vocally the evil and ambition of the character. One may wonder what he would have thought of Netrebko’s Lady.

Željko Lučić’s Macbeth is subtle. The uncertainty in Macbeth’s character finds expression in Lučić’s rounded tone. Once the Lady is dead, he has an opportunity to reflect in the last great elegiac aria “Pietà, rispetto, amore” – Compassion, honour, love, which he delivers splendidly.

Ildebrando D’Arcangelo’s Banquo is finely sung, while the Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazov (Netrebko’s husband), as grieving Macduff’s, delivers a heart-wrenching lament.

If you get an opportunity to see this production in cinema, don’t miss it.